Category Archives: digital inclusion

Data, information, knowledge and power – exploring Open Knowledge’s new core purpose

[Summary: a contribution to debate about the development of open knowledge movements]

New 'Open Knowledge' data-earth logo.

New ‘Open Knowledge Foundation’ name and ‘data earth’ branding.

The Open Knowledge Foundation (re-named as as ‘Open Knowledge’) are soft-launching a new brand over the coming months.

Alongside the new logo, and details of how the new brand was developed, posted on the OK Wiki, appear a set of statements about the motivations, core purpose and tag-line of the organisation. In this post I want to offer an initial critical reading of this particular process and, more importantly, text.

Preliminary notes

Before going further, I want to offer a number of background points that frame the spirit in which the critique is offered.

  1. I have nothing but respect for the work of the leaders, staff team, volunteers and wider community of the Open Knowledge Foundation – and have been greatly inspired by the dedication I’ve seen to changing defaults and practices around how we handle data, information and knowledge. There are so many great projects, and so much political progress on openness, which OKFN as a whole can rightly take credit for.
  2. I recognise that there are massive challenges involved in founding, running and scaling up organisations. These challenges are magnified many times in community based and open organisations.
  3. Organisations with a commitment to openness, or democracy, whether the co-operative movement, open source communities like Mozilla, communities such as Creative Commons and indeed, the Open Knowledge Foundation – are generally held to much higher standards and face much more complex pressures from engaging their communities in what they do – than do closed and conventional organisations. And, as the other examples show, the path is not always an easy one. There are inevitably growing pains and challenges.
  4. It is generally better to raise concerns and critiques and talk about them, than leave things unsaid. A critique is about getting into the details. Details matter.
  5. See (1).

(Disclosure: I have previously worked as a voluntary coordinator for the open-development working group of OKF (with support from AidInfo), and have participated in many community activities. I have never carried out paid work for OKF, and have no current formal affiliation.)

The text

Here’s the three statements in the OK Branding notes that caught my attention and sparked some reflections:

About our brand and what motivates us:
A revolution in technology is happening and it’s changing everything we do. Never before has so much data been collected and analysed. Never before have so many people had the ability to freely, easily and quickly share information across the globe. Governments and corporations are using this data to create knowledge about our world, and make decisions about our future. But who should control this data and the ability to find insights and make decisions? The many, or the few? This is a choice that we get to make. The future is up for grabs. Do we want to live in a world where access to knowledge is “closed”, and the power and understanding it brings is controlled by the few? Or, do we choose a world where knowledge is “open” and we are all empowered to make informed choices about our future? We believe that knowledge should be open, and that everyone – from citizens to scientists, from enterprises to entrepreneurs, – should have access to the information they need to understand and shape the world around them.

Our core purpose:

  • A world where knowledge creates power for the many, not the few.
  • A world where data frees us – to make informed choices about how we live, what we buy and who gets our vote.
  • A world where information and insights are accessible – and apparent – to everyone.
  • This is the world we choose.

Our tagline:
See how data can change the world

The critique

My concerns are not about the new logo or name. I understand (all too well) the way that having ‘Foundation’ in a non-profits name can mean different things in different contexts (not least people expecting you to have an endowment and funds to distribute), and so the move to Open Knowledge as a name has a good rationale. Rather, I wanted to raise four concerns:

(1) Process and representativeness

Tag Cloud from Open Knowledge Foundation Survey. See http://blog.okfn.org/2014/02/12/who-are-you-community-survey-results-part-1/ for details.

Tag Cloud from Open Knowledge Foundation Survey. See blog post for details.

The message introducing the new brand to OKF-Discuss notes that “The network has been involved in the brand development process especially in the early stages as we explored what open knowledge meant to us all” referring primarily to the Community Survey run at the end of 2013 and written up here and here. However, the later parts of developing the brand appear to have been outsourced to a commercial brand consultancy consulting with a limited set of staff and stakeholders, and what is now presented appears to be being offered as given, rather than for consultation. The result has been a narrow focus on the ‘data’ aspects of OKF.

Looking back over the feedback from the 2013 survey, that data-centricity fails to represent the breadth of interests in the OKF community (particularly when looking beyond the quantitative survey questions which had an in-built bias towards data in the original survey design). Qualitative responses to the Survey talk of addressing specific global challenges, holding governments accountable, seeking diversity, and going beyond open data to develop broader critiques around intellectual property regimes. Yet none of this surfaces in the motivation statement, or visibly in the core purpose.

OKF has not yet grappled in full with idea of internal democracy and governance – yet as a network made up of many working groups, local chapters and more, for a ‘core purpose’ statement to emerge without wider consultation seem problematic. There is a big missed opportunity here for deeper discussion about ideas and ideals, and for the conceptualisation of a much richer vision of open knowledge. The result is, I think, a core purpose statement that fails to represent the diversity of the community OKF has been able to bring together, and that may threaten it’s ability to bring together those communities in shared space in future.

Process points aside however (see growing pains point above), there are three more substantive issues to be raised.

(2) Data and tech-centricity

A selection of OKF Working Groups

The Open Knowledge movement I’ve met at OKFestival and other events, and that is evident through the pages of the working groups is one committed to many forms of openness – education, hardware, sustainability, economics, political processes and development amongst others. It is a community that has been discussing diversity and building a global movement. Data may be an element of varying importance across the working groups and interest areas of OKF. And technology may be an enabler of action for each. But a lot are not fundamentally about data, or even technology, as their core focus. As we found when we explored how different members of the Open Development working group understood the concept of open development in 2012, many members focussed more upon open processes than on data and tech. Yet, for all this diversity of focus – the new OK tagline emphasises data alone.

I work on issues of open data everyday. I think it’s an important area. But it’s not the only element of open knowledge that should matter in the broad movement.

Whilst the Open Knowledge Foundation has rarely articulated the kinds of broad political critique of intellectual property regimes that might be found in prior Access to Knowledge movements, developing a concrete motivation and purpose statement gave the OKF chance to deepen it’s vision rather than narrow it. The risk Jo Bates has written about, of intellectual of the ‘open’ movement being co-opted into dominant narratives of neoliberalism, appears to be a very real one. In the motivation statement above, government and big corporates are cast as the problem, and technology and data in the hands of ‘citizens’, ‘scientists’, ‘entrepreneurs’ and (perhaps contradictorily) ‘enterprises’, as the solution. Alternative approaches to improving processes of government and governance through opening more spaces for participation is off the table here, as are any specific normative goals for opening knowledge. Data-centricity displaces all of these.

Now – it might be argued that although the motivation statement takes data as a starting point – is is really at its core about the balance of power: asking who should control data, information and knowledge. Yet – the analysis appears to entirely conflate the terms ‘data’, ‘information’ and ‘knowledge’ – which clouds this substantially.

(3) Data, Information and Knowledge

Data, Information, Knowledge ,Wisdom

The DIKW pyramid offers a useful way of thinking about the relationship between Data, Information, Knowledge (and Wisdom). This has sometimes been described as a hierarchy from ‘know nothing’ (data is symbols and signs encoding things about the world, but useless without interpretation), ‘know what’, ‘know how’ and ‘know why’.

Data is not the same as information, nor the same as knowledge. Converting data into information requires the addition of context. Converting information into knowledge requires skill and experience, obtained through practice and dialogue.

Data and information can be treated as artefacts/thigns. I can e-mail you some data or some information. But knowledge involves a process – sharing it involves more than just sending a file.

OKF has historically worked very much on the transition from data to information, and information to knowledge, through providing training, tools and capacity building, yet this is not captured at all in the core purpose. Knowledge, not data, has the potential to free, bringing greater autonomy. And it is arguably proprietary control of data and information that is at the basis of the power of the few, not any superior access to knowledge that they possess. And if we recognise that turning data into information and into knowledge involves contextualisation and subjectivity, then ‘information and insights’ cannot be by simultaneously ‘apparent’ to everyone, if this is taken to represent some consensus on ‘truths’, rather than recognising that insights are generated, and contested, through processes of dialogue.

It feels like there is a strong implicit positivism within the current core purpose: which stands to raise particular problems for broadening the diversity of Open Knowledge beyond a few countries and communities.

(4) Power, individualism and collective action

I’ve already touched upon issues of power. Addressing “global challenges like justice, climate changes, cultural matters” (from survey responses) will not come from empowering individuals alone – but will have to involve new forms of co-ordination and collective action. Yet power in the ‘core purpose’ statement appears to be primarily conceptualised in terms of individual “informed choices about how we live, what we buy and who gets our vote”, suggesting change is purely the result of aggregating ‘choice’, yet failing to explore how knowledge needs to be used to also challenge the frameworks in which choices are presented to us.

The ideas that ‘everyone’ can be empowered, and that when “knowledge is ‘open’ [...] we are all empowered to make informed choices about our future” fails to take account of the wider constraints to action and choice that many around the world face, and that some of the global struggles that motivate many to pursue greater openness are not always win-win situations. Those other constraints and wider contexts might not be directly within the power of an open knowledge movement to address, or the core preserve of open knowledge, but they need to be recognised and taken into account in the theories of change developed.

In summary

I’ve tried to deal with the Motivation, Core Purpose and Tag-line statements with as carefully as limited free time allows – but inevitably there is much more to dig into – and there will be other ways of reading these statements. More optimistic readings are possible – and I certainly hope might turn out to be more realistic – but in the interest of dialogue I hope that a critical reading is a more useful contribution to the debate, and I would re-iterate my preliminary notes 1 – 5 above.

To recap the critique:

  • Developing a brand and statement of core purpose is an opportunity for dialogue and discussion, yet right now this opportunity appears to have be mostly missed;
  • The motivation, core purpose and tagline are more tech-centric and data-centric than the OKF community, risking sidelining other aspects of the open knowledge community;
  • There need to be a recognition of the distinction of data, information and knowledge, to develop a coherent theory of change and purpose;
  • There appears to be an implicit libertarian individualism in current theories of change, and it is not clear that this is compatible with working to address the shared global challenges that have brought many people into the open knowledge community.

Updates:

There is some discussion of these issues taking place on the OKFN-Discuss list, and the Wiki page has been updated from that I was initially writing about, to re-frame what was termed ‘core purpose’ as ‘brand core purpose’.

Exploring how digital technology can support young people to engage socially and economically in their communities

[Summary: launching an open research project to find key messages for youth-focussed digital innovation]

Over the coming months I’ll be sharing a series of blog posts linked to a project I’m working on with David Wilcox and Alex Farrow for Nominet Trust, developing a number of key messages on how digital technologies can be used to support young people to engage socially and economically in their communities. It’s a project we would love to get your input into…

Here’s where we are starting from:

“The race is on to re-engage young people in building an inclusive, healthier, more equal and economically viable society.

But changing times need fresh thinking and new solutions.  It is essential that we find new, more effective approaches to addressing these persistent social and economic challenges.   

Digital technology offers all of us the opportunity to engage young people in new, more meaningful and relevant ways and enable their participation in building a more resilient society.

We recognise that there is no single solution; many different strategies are needed to support young people. What is going to work?  ”

Between now and mid-May we’re going to be working up a series of key messages for innovators exploring the digital dimension of work with young people (you can input into this draft messages in this document before 12th April), and then taking a ‘social reporting’ approach to curate key social media and online content that helps unpack what those messages might mean in practice.

Digital dimensions of innovation

So many digital innovation projects essentially work by either taking a social challenge, and bolting a digital tool onto it; or taking a digital tool, and bolting on a social issue it might deal with. But digital innovation can be about more than tools and platforms: it can be about seeing how digital communication impacts upon the methods of organizing and the sorts of activities that make sense in contemporary communities. We’re looking for the messages that work from a recognition of the shared space between digital innovation and social change.

For example, back in the Youth Work and Social Networking report (PDF) we explored how, now that digital technologies means young people are in almost constant contact with peer-groups through SMS, social networking and instant messaging, ideas of informal education based solely on an isolated two or three hours a week of face-to-face contact seem outdated. But the solution isn’t just for youth workers to pick up and use social network sites as a venue for existing forms of practice (as a number of ‘virtual youth centre’ projects quickly discovered). Instead, by going back to youth work values, practitioners can identify the new forms of practice and interaction that are possible in the digital world.

And digital innovations to support youth engagement in employment, enterprise and community action might not just involve changing the way services are delivered to young people. A post from Jonathan Ward this morning on the Guardian’s Service Delivery Hub highlights how many of the institutions of localism such as local strategic partnerships, neighborhood planning groups, and localism forums are inaccessible to young people who “are often too busy with family and work commitments to take part in the business of localism”. We could take an approach of bolting-on digital technologies for young people to input into local fora: setting up Facebook groups or online spaces to discuss planning, with someone feeding this into regular face-to-face meetings. But on it’s own this isn’t terribly empowering. Instead, we might explore what tools what would make the processes of neighborhood in general planning more open to youth input, and look at how digital technology can not only allow consultation with young people, but can shift the structures of decision making so that online input is as valued and important as the input of those with the time to turn up to a face-to-face meeting.

Get involved

Between now and April 12th we’re inviting input into the key messages that we should develop further. You can drop ideas into the comments below, or direct into the open document where we’re drafting ideas here. After April 12th, we’ll start working up a selection of the messages and searching out the social media and other online content that can illuminate what these messages might mean in practice.

As we work through our exploration, we’ll be blogging and tweeting reflections, and all the replies and responses we get will be fed into the process.

At the start of June the results of the process will hopefully be published as a paper and online resource to support Nominet Trust’s latest call for proposals.

The Risk-Opportunity discourse is broken: Rethinking responses

[Summary: Slides and paper given at EU Kids Online Conference yesterday

Yesterday I rather hurriedly (last presenting slot of the workshop at the end of a long day…) presented at the EU Kids Online conference around the draft model that emerged from the Youth Work Online Month of Action and other prior work to use the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as the core of a model for broader and more effective research, policy and practice thinking about young people’s online lives. Below you can find a copy of the slides, annotated to explain what would otherwise be a series of rather uninformative words and images, and the working paper based on this can be found here (of follow this direct link to the PDF).

 

 

I’m speaking again around this idea of rethinking responses to young people’s online lives, and about the need to reframe the discourse and debate (something danah boyd has just this week again reminded us of the need for with a deeply insightful paper and article), at the EU Safer Internet Forum conference in October, and yesterdays brief presentation has already giving rise to some good suggestions of ways to refine the above – so I’ll blog some more on it soon.

 

Digital innovations are not always digital (and other reflections on youth-focussed digital innovation lab design)

[Summary: assorted learning from participation and hack-days applied to ideas about a youth-focussed digital innovation lab.]

Right Here, Comic Relief and Nominet Trust have a really interesting tender out right now for someone to deliver two ‘Innovation Labs’ focussed on helping “young people to look after their mental health and to access appropriate help and support”.

They describe how the labs should provide young people with the opportunity to work with mental health, youth work and design professionals to design digital tools that will meet their needs.”  If it weren’t for the unknowns of the schedule for my PhD that starts in October, it’s exactly the sort of project Practical Participation would be putting in a proposal for*, but, with the freedom to adopt a more open innovation exchange style bit of sharing around a proposal, and having been unable to resist jotting a few notes about how I might approach the tender, here’s a few quick reflections on youth-focussed digital innovation labs, drawing on learning from previous participation projects.

Digital innovations are not always digital

In my experience working with youth services and mental health services exploring use of digital tools, the biggest gaps between the potential of digital tools and their use in practice is not down to a lack of Apps or widgets – but comes down to a lack of training, inadequate policies, or other small barriers.

The most effective outcomes of a digital innovation lab could be how to guides for practitioners, youth-led training for mental health workers in how to engage online, or new protocols that make sure mental health staff have a framework and incentives to make use of digital tools – as much as they might be new apps and websites.

Set up to succeed

I’ve experienced and observed a number of participation projects in the past that have, mostly unintentionally, set young people up to fail by asking them to redesign services or systems without reference to the staff who operate those systems day-to-day, or the realities of the budgetary and legal constraints the services operate under. Instead of empowering young people to bring their lived experience to real problems, whilst avoiding organisational agendas crushing the ideas and insights young people can bring, participation projects can end up asking young people to solve problems without giving them all the information they need to find viable solutions.

In innovation events with both young people and adults ideas often come up which, whilst great in principle, draw on mistaken assumptions about resources that might realistically be available, or about how digital tools might be adopted and used (it’s not uncommon to hear ‘innovators’ of any age suggesting they’ll build ‘the next Facebook’ to bring together people to discuss some particular issue). Finding the balance between free-flowing innovation, and realisable ideas is a challenge – and increased if, for the majority of participants, the event is their first innovation lab, or project teams don’t have people with experience of taking an project through from idea to implementation. Finding facilitators who can combine the right balance of technical realism, with a focus on youth-led innovation, is important, as is offering training for facilitators.

Projects like Young Rewired State offer an interesting model, where young people who have participated in past events, return as young mentors in future years. Finding a community of young mentors may also prove useful for an innovation lab.

Involving adults

It’s not only mentors and digital experts who have a role to play in the design process, but also mental health professionals and volunteer adults who work day-to-day with young people. In policy consultations in the past we’ve used a ‘fish bowl’ like approach to adults involvement, starting the day with adults as observers only on the outside of circles where young people are developing plans and ideas; moving to a stage (perhaps after an hour) when young people can invite adults into the discussion, but adults can’t ‘push in’; and then (another hour or so later) moving to a stage when adults and young people participate together. Whilst artificial, in a policy consultation, this sort of process helped address issues around the balance of power between young people and adults, without removing the benefits to be found from youth-adult dialogue. In an innovation and design situation, this exact model might not be appropriate – but thinking about lightweight processes or ‘rules’ to help the relationship between young people and adults may be useful.

An alternative approach we’ve taken at past participation events is to have a parallel track of activities for workers coming to the event with young people: could you set a team of adult innovators competing with young innovators to contrast the ideas they come up with?

There are no representative young people

I’m not a representative 26 year old. There aren’t representative 17 year olds. Or 15 year olds. Or any age for that matter. People often design innovations for themselves: that doesn’t mean they’re designing for all young people. Not all young people are technology experts. In fact, most aren’t. There is no such thing as a digital native. Bringing the lived experiences of young people with experience of mental health services and challenges to the design of services is still a very very good thing. It can mean massive improvements in services. But often there’s a risk of implicitly or explicitly thinking of service-user or youth participants as ‘representatives’ – and that tends to be an unhelpful framing. Understanding participants as individuals with particular skills and insights to bring tends to work better.

Freedom and frameworks

I’ve spent most of this afternoon at the Guardian offices in London as a mentor for young hackers at Young Rewired State. Young Rewired State is a week-long event taking place across the country for young people interested in building things with open data and digital platforms. Young Rewired State centres have varied in how much structure they have had: some simply providing a room, and some mentors on hand, for young people to identify what they want to work on and get hacking. Others have supported the participants to work through a design process, offering more structured how-to guidance and support. Some young people thrive and innovate best with a framework and structure to work within. Others need the freedom from pre-planned programmes and tight agendas in order to innovate. Having no agenda at all can exclude those who need structure. But an agenda that is too tight, or a programme that is too prescriptive can miss innovation opportunities. Fortunately, the Innovation Labs tender that sparked this post highlights that the events themselves should be co-designed with young people – so there’s space to negotiate and work this one out.

Keep out of the dragons den

I’ve sat on a few ‘dragons den’ style panels recently – responding to presentations about young people’s project ideas. And I’ve yet to be convinced that they really make a useful contribution.

 

This post has been in the spirit of reclaiming reflective space, and has no neat ending. 

*Although I’m not putting in a proposal around the labs, I’d still be really interested to get involved should a youth-engagement and effective technology focussed facilitator/action researcher/data-wrangler be useful to whoever does end up running the labs.

Pareto Problems for Digital Innovation?

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pigpencole/1264620687/

Going for the High Hanging Fruit?

[Summary: Local by Social author Andy Gibson is working on a new paper for NESTA on how digital innovation can save public services, and has asked for reflections on ‘obstacles and their solutions’ to adoption or more social technology. I’ve written on practical barriers to digital technology in government before, but here I’m exploring an economic argument that sets out a potential challenge to many digital-social innovation projects*.]

The Pareto Problem
The Pareto Principle (named after the famous Italian Economist, but often known just as the 80-20 rule) suggests that in many real-world situations 80% of the features required in a project can be gained with just 20% of the effort**.

In software development and much of the business world, focussing on the 80% of features you can build easily makes sense. For each bit of effort put in at the start there is a large marginal return and benefit; but as you get to the trickier bits of a project, the marginal benefit (the number of people who will use a feature; how much benefit each new feature will bring etc.) relative to effort put in falls. The last 20% of features might cost four times as much as the first 80%, and in many cases, implementing them simply isn’t cost effective. So, the rational developer or manager never provides them.

Public Services don’t work like that. The tricky 20% of a service to provide is often the service to the most in need. Into that tricky 20% might fall providing services in remote rural areas; educating children from more challenging backgrounds; providing transports services for the elderly; making sure education classes are accessible to those with additional needs and so-on. When social innovators hold up technology driven innovations – new ways of providing public services – we have to ask: are they just solving the easy 80% and ignoring the tough cases?

Is the promise of more efficient and cheaper digital services simply the result of a slight-of-hand – measuring the costs of a service based on it’s provision in the easy cases and bracketing out the tough cases which would require re-engineering systems and adding significant cost and effort if a digital service were to be a universal service?

Possible Solutions
The Pareto Problem isn’t an argument against digital innovation per se. Innovation can shift where the Pareto Problem kick’s in (e.g. Can we serve 90% of the people on 10% of the cost and make savings that way?) and innovation can help the public sector to challenge the frequent over-design of processes and systems around the tough cases. However, the Pareto Problem is significant. A few possible ways to address it in thinking about digital innovation are addressed below.

  • Account for a universal service – any digital innovation needs to show its cost and benefits not just in the easy pilot cases – but also if it were to provide a universal service. Or if it can’t provide a universal service it needs to explain it’s limitations, and allow the public sector to properly cost provision to those the innovation will not work for.
  • Take the tough cases into account – Conventional design of services in the public sector often starts with tough cases. Staff have in mind the cases they faced recently where a service user had complex needs – and they design from the tricky cases first – building all sorts of processes and systems to cope with the complexities. Agile developers often start with the easy cases – and far too often the tough cases get ignored. For example, how does your service work for young people who need additional privacy because of a custody battle currently taking place? Or how does your service work for people with learning difficulties and other additional needs? ??Find the balance between over-engineering processes, but having processes that work for those with the greatest needs, is the key challenge for social innovators.
  • Design with social justice in mind – digital innovation in the public sector shouldn’t just be about creating ‘better stuff’ and ‘better services’ for individuals to consume: it should be about creating a ‘better society’ – and that involves thinking about the distribution of benefits from innovation as well as the nature of the innovation itself.
  • Collaborate and listen – the most important way to make sure social innovations don’t fall into a Pareto Problem trap is to design with the people working at the frontline.

A metaphorical summary
I started writing this post a while back under the title ‘What happens when we’ve picked all the low hanging fruit?’. Many digital innovations come showing as basket full of the low hanging fruit and explain how easy it was to pick. The key is asking – how are you also planning to get the stuff from the top of the tree as well?



* I’m posting this very tentatively, not sure that I’ve quite managed to express the idea I’ve been reflecting on – but aware that Andy’s paper is currently in progress and that working on the last 20% of tweaks to get this blog post spot on is, um, well, going to take at least four times as long as what’s been written so far… (#paretopost)

** Pareto’s original observations concerned the distribution of wealth in Italy, but the principle has been applied much more widely since. The actual numbers don’t matter here. The 80-20 ratio is simply used because Pareto observed it as a ratio that applied in many real-world situation. Take any ratio in the region of 70-30 towards 99-1 and you will see the argument above still broadly holds.

Building things at Rewired State: The Bump Game

[Summary: Documenting the card generators from 'The Bump Game' built at Rewired State DotGovLabs]

Update 21/03/10: More details on the project and background now on the Rewired State site.

I often write about youth engagement. My wife, Rachel, works with older people. But the last two days I’ve been part of a team at Rewired State DotGovLabs exploring how digital technologies and local data could be useful for those at a different stage of life, parents-to-be and their babies. This is a brain & link-dump of the two days work.

Rewired State DotGovLabs was a two-day hack-event in which developers and designers started day one with presentations from the teams behind UK Government ‘super sites’ NHS Choices, Directgov and Businesslink, and were then invited to come up with ideas for projects that helped those sites meet some key challenges, or which drew upon data available through those sites. The group I worked with chose to focus on information and data around pregnancy, creating a paper and web-based game (working title ‘The Bump Game’) which provides an engaging way for a mother-to-be and her partner/birth-partner to explore key issues that will arise over the nine months of the pregnancy.

The web-based version of the game should be available at TheBumpGame.com in the near future, but I spent most of my time working on a generator for printable game cards. You can find the final version, as of the end of Saturday, available here.

How does it work
There are two sorts of cards created by the generator.

Game Cards
The cards are created from demonstration questions that were entered into a Google Spreadsheet directly and using Google Forms. The questions are based on content from NHS Choices, particularly a list of content which another team at Rewired State had categorised and meta-data tagged for it’s relevancy to different stages of pregnancy.

The spreadsheet is then pulled into the card generator as a CSV file (Google Spreadsheets can be published to the web as CSV) and a php script works through each question and creates cards.

To add images, we make use of the code developed by Ben Webb for Plings which allows us to tag Creative Commons images on Flickr that will appear in random order on the cards according to the trimester of pregnancy that the question cards relate to.

If a link is provided to back up the information in the question, then we use the bit.ly API to generate a short version of the URL (although members of the team noted that http://nhs.uk is as short as http://bit.ly and an NHS URL Shortener would certainly be a quick-win development for someone to implement). We then include on the card an image tag pointing to the very handy Kawya QR Code generator which means that anyone with a QR Code reader on their phone can simply point the camera of the phone at the square barcode you see on the Answer side of the cards and can get taken direct to extra information.

The game cards are then output with some styling created by Josh and Ivo with the question and answer next to each other, meaning that when printed, you can just cut the page horizontally and fold it to get instant cards.

Unfortunately, most browsers don’t print background images and so-forth used in the cards, and we can’t guarantee how things will format. But, fortunately, another web-service came to the rescue, and right now the ‘Save Page as PDF‘ service from PDFOnline seems to generate two question/answers to a page for easy printing when we point it at the game cards. For example, click here to get it to generate cards for you.

We also wanted the game to have a localisation element to it (imagine GPs or Health Visitors giving a customised local game to newly pregnant women). Some of the questions are set up then to draw upon the NHS Choices API to localise questions and answers to particular postcodes.

To see that in action, press ‘Options and Details’ at the top of the card generator and enter your own postcode, then take a look again at the nearest GP question card.

Local Service Cards
I also made use of the NHS Choices API to allow the tool to generate other card-sets based on local postcodes. So, from ‘Options and Details’ you can generate a set of 10 cards each for nearest GPs, Hospitals, Stop Smoking Services, Parent and Child Services, Alcohol Services and Mental Health Services for any postcode (select type of card first and then enter your postcode).

The cards make use of the Google Static Maps API to print a map of the location of the service on the card, along with QR Codes that take users to details of the service on NHS Choices. The cards also display a count of comments that have been left on the service in question on NHS Choices, although right now only a count of comments is available in the NHS Choices API – meaning giving any further details isn’t easy without scraping the data.

Again, these cards can be printed through the Save Page as PDF service for easy printing.

Playing the Game
The draft rules of the game itself are available here – and as soon as a copy of the game board is available online I’ll put a link to that.

Next steps
I’m not sure where this project goes next – but I’ll update this post when I hear more from other members of the team about future ideas for the project.

I’m most interested in the web->printed cards aspect of the code, and will see what I can do to (a) open that code up (b) improve it and make it more general for creating cards on all sorts of services.

My own learning about the process of how a hack-day happens will also feed into the Open Data Impacts project I’m currently undertaking for dissertation research.

Costing the impacts of digital exclusion

[Summary: Oxford Internet Institute (on behalf of the National Audit Office) are consulting on a draft methodology for measuring the impacts of digital exclusion]

Principal Components Analysis - see http://microsites.oii.ox.ac.uk/digital-exclusion/ for details. How much exactly does digital exclusion cost? Both the cost to individual without access to digital technologies. And the cost to government.  A PWC report last year put the cost at £22bn, but it’s not entirely clear how that figure was reached, or, more importantly, how such a study would be replicated to track changes in the costs of digital exclusion.

A team at the OII and LSE were commissioned last year by the National Audit Office to sketch out what a long-term method for reliably measuring the impacts of digital exclusion might be – and they’ve just launched an online consultation on the methodology.

I saw the methodology in a seminar a few weeks back – and there are some interesting elements to it well worth a look. So if you’ve got a digital inclusion/exclusion interest – do take a look and drop in a few comments.

Connected Generation 2010: The Conference

Lots of people have been starting to ask me when the next ‘Connected Generation’ event will be taking place. Well, thanks to the sterling work of Katie Bacon, we’ve just booked The Watershed in Bristol for 7th May 2010 to host Connected Generation 2010 – a one-day conference exploring youth engagement and technology in 2010. Based on feedback from participants at recent training events, and on the positive response to the Beyond Twitter event we ran up in Wrexham last year, we’re trying a mixed Conference and Open Space format again – with a morning of top-quality input from speakers and a range of pre-planned workshops, followed with an afternoon of curated unConference, where delegates can set the agenda and direct the conversations.

Bristol Watershed - the Venue

I’m delighted that key speakers at the event will include a gender balanced panel with:

We’re still in the process of confirming the workshop programme, but plans include:

  • Ethics and ICT – workshop with Andy Phippen from Plymouth University;
  • Promoting Positive Activities with Social Media with Steven Flower from Plings;
  • Safe and Sound Foundations – proactive approaches to safe social media engagement with young people, staff and volunteers;

If there is a workshop you would particularly like to see, drop in a comment and I’ll see what we can do…

Full details and online booking available here. (If you can’t order online because your organisation needs invoicing etc. just drop me a line…)

Fingers crossed, we’ll also be using the event to launch a new ‘Youth Engagement and Social Media’ resource which Katie and I are hard at work drafting, and, if you want, you can pre-order a copy when booking your place at the conference.

ICT Ethics – finding new equilibria profession by profession

Ethical ICT in Youth Work (c) Tim Davies 2010

Ethical ICT in Youth Work (c) Tim Davies 2010

[Summary: Ethics belongs to professions, not problems & an ethical framework for youth and ICTs will require each workforce to seek new equilibria based on a number of inter-related elements]

I spend a very interesting day yesterday at a workshop organised by DC10Plus exploring the possible creation of an ‘ethical framework for ICT and young people’. This post contains a set of reflections and ‘thinking aloud’ following that session…

With technologies and the dynamics of digital environments constantly developing, ethical frameworks, over and above guidance and best-practice, are very much needed to help all those involved in work with young people (and young people themselves) to think critically about the ways technologies are used in, and impact upon, the lives of children and young people. However, when it comes to practical ethics for the public sector, it’s crucial to remember that ethics belong to professions, not problems.

That was a point brought home to me the Connected Practice symposium in September last year, where it was clear that different professional groups approached their work from very different motivations and with very different practical and ethical frameworks. Whilst some would argue the rise of a network society leads to a dissolution of barriers between professionals, and consequently, the dissolution of clear and distinct forms of professional practice, right now we are in an environment of inter-disciplinary practice, rather than post-disciplinary practice  – and there are real advantages to be found in each different professional group working out it’s own ethical responses to ICT. A ‘meta-ethical’ public sector framework of general ethical principles may support a degree of compatibility and interface between different professional ethical approaches to ICT, but should not try to replace the process of each profession working out it’s ICT ethics in it’s own context. For a real practice example of how professional context affects the sorts of ethical and practical implications of using ICT – take a look at this forum thread over on Youth Work Online – where the differences between the nature of practice and relationship with young people and youth workers in statutory and voluntary sector youth work settings is leading to a need to adapt and think critically about guidance on how youth workers should use social networking sites.

The point that ethics belong to professions, not problems also highlights that ICT ethics should start, not from concerns about ICTs per-se, but from a recognition of how ICTs impact upon and cut across the concerns of different professional groups within the public sector. And any approach to ethics for ICTs & Young People should have a clear account of where and why a specific focus on young people is warranted. In Safe and Effective Social Network Site Applications for Young People (p. 7) I’ve argued that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Law, and neuro-scientific understandings of adolescence are critical to any such account.

Finding a new equilibrium

Professional ethics guide how individuals and organisations with a set of specific goals should behave in the pursuit of those goals, given the particular contexts in which they work. It might be thought that professional groups can just look at their existing ethical codes and apply them directly to the Internet. However, in my experience exploring youth work values and ethics that turns out not to be quite so straightforward. Whilst it is possible (as we do on p.g. 17 & 18 of the Youth Work & Social Networking Report) to explore how the values of a profession play out in a digital world – deriving practical and ethical guidance for real world situations is not just a case of looking at values and the realities of the online world, but involves finding an equilibria between at least six different elements, as the diagram above shows. Each element is both a variable that may be open to change, but equally a constraint on working out an ethical position:

  • Young people’s use of social media/ICT/the Internet – ethics cannot be built for the ‘ideal world’, but must be developed for the world we are in. At the same time, ethical approaches may involve challenging current patterns of ICT use and seeking to encourage young people to approach ICTs in different ways.
  • Professional values and skills – professional values in many service start from an analysis of the world and a desire to change something in it – be that a desire to tip the balance of power in favour of young people in core youth work theory, or a desire to reduce crime and increase social control in the basic analysis of law enforcement services. However, ICTs are implicated in ongoing changes to the world – and so professional values need to be re-examined in light of the digital world – without being abandoned.
  • Models of online communication and collaboration – there are many different ways of working online. Only some should be seen as ‘youth work’ ways of working – and the choice over which ways of working are ruled in, and ruled out, of a youth work framework of ethics for ICT use will impact upon the nature of that framework. The choice of ethics will also determine which forms of online communication and collaboration are (a) open to youth workers, and (b) likely to be open to youth workers in ways that allow them to be effectively used.
  • Features of available / popular social media tools – this is a particularly interesting ‘variable’ – as to an extent, for most professionals, the tools available to use are not seen as something over which they have much control. Facebook works the way it does. Changing that is not in the power of the individual practitioner. However, the plug-in and application architectures of many social media spaces mean that it may be possible for them to be adapted to be made ‘safer spaces’ for youth work practice, or more appropriate settings for the forms of practice a worker wants to explore. Right now, reshaping social media spaces is beyond the means of most practitioners – but if made more accessible, could enhance the possibility of ‘ethical and effective’ online practice.
  • Institutional drivers of, and barriers to, online working. See the 50 Barriers wiki on this one.
  • Consideration of opportunities and risks – based on real evidence about the opportunities and risks young people face online.

I recognise that this is still a fairly sketchy model – and my use of language above is neither as clear, nor as precise, as would be ideal. However, I wanted to share this now both for the Ethical ICT & Youth project, and as part of ongoing thinking for another project which I hope to be blogging more about soon…

Skills for public voice & participation alongside skills for social media

Eszter Hargittai was in the Oxford Internet Institute earlier today sharing her research findings on the role of skills and socio-demographic factors in influencing levels of use of the Internet – and particularly web 2.0 spaces.

Implicit in Eszter’s argument was a relationship between the diversity of Web 2.0 use and democratisation. The presentation highlighted how socio-demographic factors, and particularly gender, can have an impact on the extent to which different groups contribute to public online spaces such as YouTube and Wikipedia. It’s not enough to give access to the web, and to web 2.0 for the imbalances in who is speaking and expressing their views through these online platforms to be challenged. Skills matter in addressing the imbalance.

However, as discussion at the presentation explored, if our concerns are of democratisation, social justice and equality, then the the skills that need to be promoted are far wider than technology skills, or skills to work with social media.

Skills to exercise public voice and to participate in community (online and offline) are arguably prior to the skills to use technology for public expression.

Both as we measure engagement online, and as we work to promote online engagement – keeping in mind a focus not only on digital skills, but also on general skills of public expression, interaction and dialogue is key.

For those working with young people and communities then that perhaps adds up to encouragement to address digital skills as part of wider civic skill-building programmes such as ‘Act by Right (now online as a free resource BTW)’ rather than to address digital skills and social media in isolation.